MONTEREY — For 17 years, Lance Koehler walked past a location on Wave Street that he felt would be a perfect spot to run a small business.
Several business ventures crossed his mind. Operating a pet boutique and bakery was not one of them, at least initially.
“When I met my wife, we shared the same passion for animals,” Koehler said. “We have vastly different professions. Animals were a middle ground.”
Two months into their venture as owners of Pacific Pet Treats at 601 Wave St. in Monterey, Koehler and his wife, Christina, have built their résumé through word of mouth and social media.
“The feedback — not just from locals, but tourists — has been good,” Koehler said. “We’re getting to know the locals and their dogs on a first-name basis.”
Pacific Pet Treats is unique in that most of its food products for dogs and cats are made with fish from local fishermen, while the toys come from ocean recycling plastics.
The pair wanted their treats to be healthy, while being environmentally conscious in the process by offering products made with recycled materials and eco-friendly cotton for clothing.
“I hate waste,” said Koelher, who is also the general manager for Louie Linguini’s on Cannery Row. “There are parts of the fish that go unused that are still healthy to consume. That used to bug me.”
Prior to opening the business, Koelher began integrating more fish into his own dog’s diets. The results were immediate from a health standpoint.
“Our dogs had more energy,” said Koelher, a CSU Monterey Bay graduate. “Their coats were nicer. All the healthy fish oils were making a difference. We saw lots of health benefits.”
With a surplus of fish being baked for their own pets, Koelher started giving treats to friends that had animals.
“We had more than our dogs could consume,” said Koelher, an avid fisherman since he was 9 years old. “So my wife and I took it a step further.”
The idea of turning it into a business began to take shape, with the thought process of being an online service only.
That changed when Koehler learned of all the protocols it would take to sell treats for animals, including licenses and submitting them for lab testing.
“The requirements for making pet food is harder than making human food,” Koelher said. “All pet food has to be lab tested. And it has to be made in a commercial kitchen.”
So when the spot that Koehler had eyed for 17 years opened up, which included a commercial kitchen, a plan went into place.
“If we were ever going to do this, we needed a commercial kitchen space,” Koelher said. “When the location popped up, we decided to go with a full bakery and boutique.”
A hobby and vision has become a passion and reality for Koehler, whose wife also works as a mental health therapist.
“Fish provide high values in lean protein with lots of vitamins and minerals,” Christina said. “I don’t believe there is anything quite like this in the community.”
Not all treats are made strictly with fish. Koehler has items with peanut butter. But the objective was to create health-conscious treats for animals.
“Most of what we sell is fish-based and from local fishermen,” Koehler said. “We felt that it was important to work with the locals. We’ve used king salmon for treats.”
The adventure has created long hours and seven-day work weeks, as the business is open daily from 11 am until 8 pm The lab testing can be costly. But the rewards have been encouraging.
“Going from the initial online business to having a bakery was a lot to take on,” Koehler said. “But being in historic Cannery Row allows us to highlight what we need to do to be sustainable.”
The foot traffic that flows along Wave Street as tourists make their way down to Cannery Row has been beneficial, particularly with their online service and webpage.
“Folks from out of town stop in out of curiosity,” Koehler said. “Most have not seen this before. We get a lot of blown-away reactions. Things still need to be done. We need to grow. But we’re really happy with where we are at.”